How graffiti artists turned former warring areas into a giant artwork for peace

Updated 24th November 2017
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How graffiti artists turned former warring areas into a giant artwork for peace
Written by Eoghan Macguire, CNN
Lebanese graffiti artists Mohamed and Omar Kabbani were born during the dark years of their country's civil war, which raged between 1975 and 1990.
In recent weeks, fears of a return to violence have surfaced in the wake of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri's shock resignation and subsequent suspension of that decision.
But the twin brothers, aged 34, are keen to show there's more to their home nation and the wider region than just bullets, bombs and conflict.
Through their ASHEKMAN street art project, the Kabbanis have spent recent weeks painting "salam," the Arabic word for peace, on rooftops in the Lebanese city of Tripoli.
The project, which was completed at the end of October, has been dubbed "Operation Salam."
Speaking to CNN via the WhatsApp messaging service, Mohamed Kabbani said that several drones were used to take pictures of the work as it progressed so the team could be as accurate as possible.
Footage captured from 300 meters up in the air, meanwhile, shows the sheer scale of the artwork.

'Life continues'

The street-art duo has carried out graffiti projects across Lebanon, but never anything as big as this work spanning 85 structures across a 1.3 kilometer (0.8 mile) area.
Rooftops in the districts of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh were chosen as sectarian violence has flared between the two neighborhoods over the years.
With the most recent confrontation there taking place in 2014, many buildings remain riddled with bullet holes while some are still uninhabitable.
"The area is an ex war-zone ... but the people from both sides want to live peacefully," Mohamed said.
Installing a message of peace in a war-torn area seemed a good idea.
According to Omar, residents there "forgive but they won't forget, which is normal. You had a lot of casualties from both ends but life continues."
The project brought the communities together, with about 50 local residents helping the team to scout for locations.
What's more, the project has practical benefits for residents: the paint used provides waterproof covering for the roofs and helps cool the buildings during hot weather.

'Tolerance, enlightenment, progress'

In the wider context, Lebanon today remains in a delicate position.
Its parliament has long been comprised of a balance of representatives from the nation's numerous religious sects to ensure harmony.
The circumstances surrounding Hariri's still uncertain position, however, have sewn confusion and led many to worry the country could be moved towards another conflict.
Although their work was created before recent political events unfolded, the artists hope the attention it receives will show the outside world that Lebanese people want peace.
"Politicians come and go," Mohammed said, but what is most important is "the people living in this region."
"We love life, we are educated and positive people who want to convey a message of peace."
His brother concurred: "Tolerance, enlightenment, progress. This is what we want for our country and the region."
Videos courtesy of Firas Chehabeddine Photography